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Federal CARES Act funds directed toward rural hospitals

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rural hospitals in West Virginia stand to benefit from allocations from the federal CARES act announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency has awarded $58,580,583 to rural hospitals as well as those providing care to a high percentage of vulnerable patients. According to the offices of U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, the breakdown allocated just over $40.2 Million to those hospitals serving the vulnerable patients in high percentages. A grant of $18.7 Million will be awarded to rural hospitals.

“I am relieved that after months of urging, HHS has made this investment in rural and vulnerable hospitals across West Virginia. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, West Virginia hospitals were already operating on shoestring budgets to provide the best care possible. Like most things these days, their operations were complicated by the pandemic and they urgently need this emergency funding,” Senator Manchin said in a press release announcing the grants.

Manchin introduced a measure in May, the Save Our Rural health Providers Act which created a new formulate to ensure the provider relief. A follow-up letter to the HHS Secretary July 2nd asked the agency to adopt a new formula to make certain a portion of the set aside money would be directed toward health care facilities in rural America.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have listened closely to the leaders of our medical institutions and health care professionals that are working extremely hard on the frontlines. I know how much our safety net hospitals have been struggling, making this funding incredibly important. We must continue to provide support that keeps our front line workers safe and West Virginians healthy. I will continue to advocate for the safety net hospitals across our state and the resources we need to battle this terrible pandemic,” said Senator Capito in a release announcing the grant awards.

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DMV extends expiration dates a second time

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Division of Motor Vehicles continues to be lenient on expiration of all motor vehicle related permits and documentation amid the ongoing pandemic. Friday, the agency announced an extension of expiration dates until September 30th for any vehicle or driver documents which have expired since March 1st.

Covered by the extension are any driver’s license, including the Graduated Driver’s License at levels 1, 2, or 3 and that includes the February expiration dates. Also included are Commercial Driver’s License and any CDL instructional permits.

Vehicle registration, including temporary vehicle registrations or plates, and IRP registration.
Also, in conjunction with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), any CDL holder whose medical certification expires March 1, 2020, or after, and was issued for 90 days or longer, will have until September 30, 2020, to provide a new medical certification to avoid the downgrading of the CDL.

Many of the functions of renewal can be handled on-line at the DMV website, but the agency added customers may begin making appointments in the following eight offices for vehicle registration renewals on July 13, 2020, for appointments beginning July 14: Beckley,Charles Town, Clarksburg, Kanawha City, Martinsburg, Moundsville, Parkersburg, and Winfield.

Appointments can me made on-line HERE or by calling 304-558-3938. All DMV regional offices and the Fairmont Exam Center are taking those appointments.

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Downtown Charleston businesses welcoming street closures

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Local businesses and restaurants in the downtown Charleston area are getting the weekend to spread out and attract customers differently.

The City of Charleston closed Capitol and Hale streets beginning Friday afternoon and will remain that way until Sunday evening to allow for outdoor dining and shopping in some spots.

Kim Rossi, the owner of Stella’s Gelato/Specialty Market on Hale Street told MetroNews affiliate 580-WCHS on Friday that the idea of closing down streets came long before the pandemic and she is excited about the opportunity.

“All the local businesses surrounding me, including Hale House, we have been talking about this for Hale for almost a year,” she said.

Rossi said she heard from the city that it may last longer than just this weekend and could be for future weekends to come if patrons cooperate.

“We need everybody to cooperate and still maintain a social distance, to wear masks when entering the storefront and I think everything is going to go smoothly,” she said.

Rossi admitted the pandemic has been tough on her business, which opened in the late summer of 2019. Stella’s did not qualify for a PPP loan but did receive another small business loan, according to her.

The business has also changed its business model and turned into more of a specialty good stores and done more curbside orders.

“Instead of having special events and music nights indoors, we are doing more specialty retail to survive,” Rossi said.

The streets will be closed from Kanawha Boulevard to Lee Street, although a lane on Hale Street from Kanawha Boulevard to Virginia Street will remain open to allow access to the South Side Bridge.

“The City is committed to helping our small businesses. We have been working with restaurants for months to create an outdoor dining plan that is safe and gives our small businesses additional seating capacity,” Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin said in a release.

“We are using Capitol Street and Hale Street as a pilot program and plan to expand this effort to include additional restaurants in other parts of the City.”

Restaurants will be responsible for providing tables, chairs and tents.

The streets will be closed from Friday at 3 p.m. to Sunday at 9 p.m.

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DHHR: Active COVID-19 cases tops 1,100; 2,600 people show up for testing events in 6 counties

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The recent climb of positive COVID-19 cases in West Virginia continued Friday with the addition of 157 cases.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources reported a total of 3,983 cases since the pandemic began. There are currently 1,132 active cases, which is the highest number the state has recorded. The number of active cases have grown by 495 in the past week. There were 21,000 tests over that time.

There have now been 201,092 COVID-19 tests given in West Virginia.

The state’s daily positive test rate heading into the weekend is 4.24 percent. It’s overall test rate at 1.98 percent.

The number of COVID-19-related deaths remained at 95. There are 56 people in the hospital, which matches a previous high that was recorded May 1.

.@WV_DHHR reports as of 5:00 p.m., on July 10, 2020, there have been 201,092 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 3,983 total cases and 95 deaths. #SaferAtHomeWV

— WV DHHR (@WV_DHHR) July 10, 2020

The state, working with county health departments, held six testing events Friday. Nearly 2,600 people were tested including 323 in Marshall County; 1,368 in Monongalia County; 407 in Preston County; 51 in Wayne County; and 440 in Upshur County.

Saturday’s testing schedule includes:

Marshall County
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Marshall County Health Department: 513 6th Street, Moundsville, WV 26041

Mercer County
9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Mercer County Health Department: 978 Blue Prince Road, Bluefield, WV 24701

Monongalia County
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Mountainview Elementary School: 661 Green Bag Road, Morgantown, WV 26508

Preston County
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Kingwood Elementary School: 207 South Price Street, Kingwood, WV 26537

Upshur County
10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Buckhannon-Upshur High School: 270 B-U Drive, Buckhannon, WV 26201

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
78 Queens Alley, Rock Cave, WV 26234

Wayne County
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Wayne Elementary School: 80 McGinnis Drive, Wayne, WV 25570

Total COVID-19 cases per county include:

(Case confirmed by lab test/Probable case): Barbour (18/0), Berkeley (504/19), Boone (31/0), Braxton (4/0), Brooke (24/1), Cabell (188/6), Calhoun (4/0), Clay (11/0), Fayette (79/0), Gilmer (13/0), Grant (18/1), Greenbrier (69/0), Hampshire (42/0), Hancock (35/3), Hardy (45/1), Harrison (109/0), Jackson (148/0), Jefferson (248/5), Kanawha (381/12), Lewis (19/1), Lincoln (10/0), Logan (35/0), Marion (95/3), Marshall (57/1), Mason (23/0), McDowell (8/0), Mercer (62/0), Mineral (62/2), Mingo (27/2), Monongalia (454/14), Monroe (14/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (15/1), Ohio (138/0), Pendleton (15/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (36/1), Preston (79/16), Putnam (78/1), Raleigh (68/3), Randolph (184/2), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (12/0), Summers (2/0), Taylor (22/1), Tucker (6/0), Tyler (9/0), Upshur (22/1), Wayne (121/1), Webster (1/0), Wetzel (30/0), Wirt (6/0), Wood (159/9), Wyoming (7/0).

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Groups formally request taking down Stonewall Jackson statue from W.Va. Capitol

Thirty groups have asked West Virginia’s Capitol Building Commission and Gov. Jim Justice for support in removing a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

The request came two days after the Capitol Building Commission met without mentioning the statue. Statues of confederates are being removed in public places across the country as the nation examines its history of race relations.

“Nothing was brought up about any of that,” Randall Reid-Smith, chairman of the commission, told The Charleston Gazette-Mail after this week’s meeting.

Today, a letter stated, “Consider this a formal request.”

Letter to Capitol Grounds Commission Regarding Stonewall Jackson Statue (Text)

Groups that signed the letter included Black Lives Matter: West Virginia, State of West Virginia NAACP, American Civil Liberties of West Virginia, Fairness WV, WV Free, WV Working Families Party and more.

The commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans responded with support for the continued presence of the statue at the Capitol.

“Jackson is deserving on the Capitol grounds,” said Ernest Everett Blevins, commander of the Robert S. Garnett Camp 1470, Sons of Confederate Veterans. “He was born in what became West Virginia.  His statue was the first one to grace the old Capitol grounds.

“Removing Jackson from the history displayed at the outdoor museum of the capitol grounds is like removing a front tooth from a smile.”

He noted the presence of additional statues on the Capitol grounds such as those for President Abraham Lincoln, the black educator and author Booker T. Washington, a coal miner, veterans, a firefighter and more.

“Removing one for the satisfaction brings division and states that one group is not welcome to the people’s lawn,” Blevins said.

Jackson, who gained renown for leading Confederate forces in key battles, was born in what is part of present-day West Virginia. He died after accidentally being shot by Confederate soldiers, losing an arm to amputation and then succumbing to pneumonia eight days later.

Jackson owned six slaves.

Civil War historian James Robertson wrote that “Jackson neither apologized for nor spoke in favor of the practice of slavery. He probably opposed the institution. Yet in his mind the Creator had sanctioned slavery, and man had no moral right to challenge its existence. The good Christian slaveholder was one who treated his servants fairly and humanely at all times.”

The Kanawha County Board of Education voted this week to remove his name from the West Side school that had been called “Stonewall Jackson” since opening in 1940. More than 40 percent of the students at the middle school are Black, the highest percentage of any school in the state.

A statue of Stonewall Jackson was brought down in Richmond, Virginia’s capital, at the start of this month.

In West Virginia, a statue of Stonewall Jackson is on a prominent corner of the lawn outside the state Capitol, along busy Kanawha Boulevard.

Governor Justice, asked a few weeks ago about his view of the statue, said he doesn’t want any aspect of the state Capitol to be unwelcoming to people. But he questioned whether he has the authority to prompt its removal.

Making reference to those remarks, the groups in their letter asked for his support.

“We ask that you call for immediate removal of the statue,” they wrote.

“It may be a small step toward racial justice, but it is a necessary one.”

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Justice says he’ll close bars, indoor dining in Monongalia County next week if numbers don’t improve

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice threatened to close bars and eliminate indoor dining in Monongalia County early next week unless the COVID-19 numbers improve there.

The Monongalia County Health Department reported 246 active cases Friday, a number that has risen by more than 60 percent since July 1. Justice said the numbers aren’t good.

Gov. Jim Justice

“If our numbers continue over the weekend in a negative way we’re going to have to move to shut down our bars and (in-dining) restaurants in Mon County,” Justice said at his coronavirus media briefing at the state capitol Friday.

Justice said he needs to see “real movement” in the numbers.

“Movement in our direction,” he said.

The Monongalia County Health Department statistics show more than half of the new positive cases are linked to residents between the ages of 20-29. Officials said an outbreak began a few weeks ago when people who were COVID-19 positive went to several bars. There area also cases linked to vacation travel.

Justice said he’s not going to let the situation get “out of control.”

“We know the situation and how critical the situation is,” he said.

Justice also expressed disappointment Friday about the statewide COVID-19 numbers with more than 1,000 active cases and a reproductive rate, 1.37, that now ranks as the top in the country. He said the numbers would head in the opposite directions if residents would follow his mandatory mask order for indoor public places.

“This is the only bullet that I’ve got right now,” he said. “The next available bullet is to shut our state back down. We need to understand that my executive order said mandatory.”

He said he’s considering limiting public gatherings across the state.

“We may need to go to a small number statewide,” Justice said.

Justice said the state needs to be “almost flawless” in its mask wearing.

“Eighty percent is what we surely have to have but we need to be 99.9,” he said.

The Monongalia County decision will come down to the numbers. Justice did thank the owners of some restaurants and bars in the Morgantown area that have voluntarily closed.

Justice said he realizes any decision he makes will impact WVU’s fall semester.

“We’ve gotta stop this and gotta stop this now or we’re not going to be able to end up with kids back at West Virginia University,” Justice said.

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New W.Va. public health officer, following Slemp’s ouster, is Beckley physician Ayne Amjad

Gov. Jim Justice announced a new West Virginia Public Health Officer today, just a few weeks after pushing out the previous officer, Cathy Slemp.

“Not to slight anyone from the past, but now we have picked up an incredible West Virginian,” Justice said.

Ayne Amjad

The new appointee is Ayne Amjad, a Beckley physician who also ran for Congress in the Republican primary 2018.

“I’ve known of her work on and on and on,” said Justice, who has longstanding ties to the Beckley area. “She is absolutely a star beyond belief.”

Amjad participated in a regular briefing Friday about West Virginia’s coronavirus response.

“I’m excited to be here,” she said. “Everything happened really fast.”

The governor noted that Amjad is coming on board during a particularly challenging time in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

West Virginia’s reproductive rate for the virus — the rate of its exponential spread — was highest in the nation, according to a website that tracks how fast the virus is spreading.

West Virginia’s rate was 1.37.  If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.

West Virginia also reported its highest daily level of hospitalizations on Friday since May 1. That number was 56.

And West Virginia’s daily percent positive — the number of tests divided by positive results — was 3.86 on Friday. State officials have wanted to keep that number below 3.

“You talk about wading into the pool when there’s a lot of activity going on. There’s a lot of activity going on, and it’s going the wrong way,” Justice said. “I’m sure she’ll be a tremendous help.”

Since 2010, Amjad has been a private practice physician specializing in internal medicine and preventive health care serving residents in Beckley, Oak Hill and Princeton. She also is the assistant program director of Encompass Health in Princeton and the medical director of PCH Home Care in Beckley.

Amjad has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Virginia Tech, a master’s degree in public health from West Virginia University, a medical degree from Marshall University, and studied internal medicine at Allegheny General Hospital.

Slemp was pushed out June 24 after Justice publicly complained about the accuracy of coronavirus figures during a regular news conference.

Justice described his “lack of confidence in Dr. Slemp’s leadership of the Bureau for Public Health due to a series of recent events involving issues under her direct control.”

The only specific incident he described involved discrepancies with active case statistics in a single county. Those numbers are reported from local health agencies up to the state.

In an interview published today by The Associated Press, Slemp cited decades-old computer systems and staff cuts over the years making the public health officer job even more challenging in the demands of a pandemic.

“We are driving a great aunt’s Pinto when what you need is to be driving a Ferrari,” Slemp told The AP.

Leaders at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where Slemp was a graduate, sharply criticized the decision to force her resignation.

“We are stunned and troubled,” wrote leaders at the school.

Slemp had been been the state health director since late 2018 with particularly high visibility while dealing with the coronavirus in West Virginia over the past few months.

Prior to that she was in private practice for several years, but from 2002 to 2011 she was also the state health officer and director of the Center for Threat Preparedness.

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Boone Memorial Hospital goes back to no visitor policy

MADISON, W.Va. — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in West Virginia, some hospitals and nursing homes are going back to a no visitors policy.

Boone Memorial Hospital announced on Friday that visitors are not allowed at the facility, including all hospital clinics, until further notice.

The hospital said extenuating circumstances may be considered.

“Thank you for your understanding as we work to keep our patients and staff safe,” the hospital said in a release.

In the latest numbers from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources on Friday afternoon, there are 30 COVID-19 cases in Boone County with 11 being active.

The state has added more than 1,000 cases in the past two weeks from 2,754 to 3,882.

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2020 H.S. football season shortened by one week

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The start of the 2020 high school football season has been delayed. Games are now allowed to be played starting on September 3. WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan made the announcement Friday at Governor Jim Justice’s regular COVID-19 press conference.

In a normal year, teams have an 11-week window to play as many as 10 games. This year, teams will have a 10-week window to play 10 games. As a result, many coaches and athletic directors are trying to match up ‘bye weeks’ to round out their schedule.

“It is the Thursday night prior to the first week of school,” Dolan said. “We think it will be a great way to bring the community back together. Everybody will be in full swing by the time we walk into school that next Tuesday. We think it is a great opportunity for our kids and for our schools to be the center of their community again.”

Official, mandatory high school practices for all sports (football, cheerleading, golf, soccer, cross country and volleyball) will now begin on August 17.

Those practices were originally scheduled to begin on August 3 for all sports with the exception of volleyball. Volleyball was slated to start on August 10.

WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan (left) and Gov. Jim Justice.

First competition dates for each sport are as follows:

  • Golf – August 24
  • Volleyball – September 2
  • Cross country – September 2
  • Cheer – September 2
  • Soccer – September 2
  • Football – September 3

Football games were originally scheduled to begin on August 24. Most teams were slated to open their seasons August 27-29. Governor Justice has delayed the opening of schools statewide to September 8.

“As we have watched the numbers that continue to grow, I think what we are here to do today is emphasize that we need to do our part to stop this,” Dolan said. “The ball is small right now. But as that ball rolls, it is going to get out of control and hard to handle. We have an opportunity right now with the masks to be able to control it.”

Dolan acknowledges that if positive COVID cases rise in a particular community, games may have to be canceled during the season.

“If a team is shut down, than it would be a ‘no contest’ and there would not be implications. We expect it is possible there will be places and times that people will miss a game or two as we move forward.”

Several key football matchups could now fall off schedules entirely:

  • Bluefield vs. Graham, Va. (Week 1)
  • Spring Valley at Cabell Midland (Week 1)
  • Capital at Parkersburg South (Week 1)
  • Highland Springs, Va. at Martinsburg (Week 1)

Dolan also confirmed that the Phase III offseason workouts underway in many counties statewide will be allowed to continue until the end of their three-week window.

Individual counties will set attendance policies for home contests, whether or not to have full or limited capacity.

“I would imagine they might be different from county to county based on what your level of infection rate is.”

Football teams traditionally have four weeks of official preseason practices. That window will be reduced by a week this year and as a result, many teams will likely opt to schedule just one scrimmage instead of two.

Dolan also advises that junior varsity and freshman football teams should be kept in different practice groups while they go throughout preseason and regular season activities.

“I would try to keep them as separate as possible. I would try to keep my units consistent and separate. So that if there is an outbreak on one of the other teams, it doesn’t affect your varsity, and vice versa.”

In normal years, football teams must play a minimum of eight games to be eligible for the playoffs. That could likely change for this season.

“We will address that at the next board meeting. I think there will be teams that struggle to get their eight games. Because if you have a lot of out-of-state games, and they have restrictions, you could have trouble.”

Dolan added that it is likely that the requirement to play six games in your class or higher to be playoff eligible will likely be waived for the 2020 season.

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COVID-19 hospitalizations more than double in past week; Marsh says time for ‘double down commitment’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — COVID-19-related hospitalizations in West Virginia grew to 56 Friday, the highest number since May 1. Hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past week.

State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said during a Friday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” those numbers could go up even more because hospitalizations tend to lag behind the reporting of positive cases.

“Over the last two weeks we’ve seen about a doubling of the number of active cases, so we know that COVID is spreading (in WV) and we know that there is a delay between when the positives happen and the hospital stuff starts to really jump,” Marsh said.

Hospitalizations were at 25 last Friday, July 3, the state Department of Health and Human Resources listed it at 56 Friday morning. Sixteen of those patients are being treated in intensive care units and seven people are on ventilators.

.@claymarsh talks to @HoppyKercheval about COVID-19 testing rates and statistics in WV. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 10, 2020

Marsh said the numbers, though increasing, are far below the capacity of hospitals around the state can handle but there is something to be concerned about.

“This is the time for us to be really, really to be double down committed to mitigating in every way we can. We look at it as the clock is ticking on us,” Marsh said. “If we miss our opportunity to mitigate and intervene effectively now to slow down the spread, then we could very well be in the same position as Florida and Texas and Arizona and other states are getting to which would be quite a disaster,” Marsh said.

Marsh addresses #WV testing, which is reflected well in this New York Times story:

— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) July 10, 2020

A report in the New York times Friday listed West Virginia as one of five states that has tested enough people “considered necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

According to the DHHR’s numbers Friday, 199,383 COVID-19 tests have been completed in the state since early March. The state’s overall positive test rate is 1.95 percent.

According to the Times article, 12 states have met the testing target, five are close and 34 other states need more testing.

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